5 On Your Side

Cleanliness, patient awareness key to preventing hospital infections

Posted January 25

Many count on hospitals to make them well, but sometimes patients end up in worse condition after developing an infection.

Hospital acquired infections are the nation’s eighth leading cause of death, just behind diabetes. Consumer Reports tracks hospital infection records and says while some institutions are making good progress, serious problems remain.

Hospitals always appear to be so sterile but the reality is they are breeding grounds for infection causing bacteria. Each year, at least 650,000 patients develop an infection in the hospital and 75,000 die, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control.

“Germs concentrate in hospitals and they can be easily spread there. C. diff. and MRSA are two dangerous bacterial infections and are very difficult to treat,” said Consumer Reports Chief Health Editor Ellen Kunes.

Kellie Pearson knows firsthand how serious C. difficile can be.

“When I got home, one of the surgical nurses I talked to said ‘you know, we had other people and a couple of them died. We were concerned you were going to’,” Pearson said.

The hospital a person goes to can make a difference. Consumer Reports’ new hospital ratings show some hospitals do a much better job of preventing some types of infections than others.

“We’ve been looking at this data since 2009, and we see how some hospitals are able to prevent infections, so we really know it’s possible,” said Doris Peter with the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.

Cleanliness is key, but patients can also take steps to keep themselves safe.

“Ask everyone who enters the room to wash their hands with soap and water. Hand sanitizer may not be enough to destroy some dangerous bacteria,” Kunes said.

A patient with any type of infection should ask if surgery can be postponed because a weakened immune system increases the chance of a new infection. IVs and catheters can also lead to infections, so patients should ask daily if they are still needed.

Patients should also select a friend of family member to be their advocate, especially at nights and on weekends.

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